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President Biden is ready to let congressional Democrats steamroll his $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus plan to his desk — despite his repeated claims of wanting to do it in a bipartisan fashion.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and House Democratic leaders on Friday insisted that their unilateral path forward could end up bipartisan, even though it’s being rammed through Congress without current Republican support.
Psaki danced around questions about any negotiation on the part of the White House to meet Republicans part way, saying, “we are not going to sit here and wait for an ongoing negotiation where frankly we haven’t received an offer in return… because the American people need the relief now.”
In a preliminary Senate package pushed through around 5 a.m. — after more than 700 amendments were put up by GOP members — Democrats agreed to prevent $1,400 stimulus checks from going to high earners, but with no guidelines at all for doing so, and to remove a $15-an-hour minimum wage from Biden’s relief package.
Psaki brushed off a reporter’s question at a Friday press briefing about whether Biden had given up talking with Republicans.
“We certainly are hopeful that there will be opportunities for amendments from Republicans amendments from others across the board to be a part of this process,” Psaki said.
But in the Senate, some policies that Republicans were able to influence as part of the “vote-a-rama” on amendments to the package were ultimately stripped by Democratic leaders just before final passage.
Two Senate Democrats voted to defy Biden and reverse his decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline, only to change course hours later by voting for an amendment from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that stripped the provision.
Psaki said that historically, reconciliation bills have ended up bipartisan, though none in recent memory has been as contentious as the massive COVID-19 bill under consideration now.
“Even as the package is moving to a reconciliation process there is a great deal of time, the process enables for time for negotiations for committee work which will happen next week, and also the majority of reconciliation bills in the past have been bipartisan, and so,” she said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) scoffed on the White House driveway when asked after a meeting with Biden and House Democrats about lack of bipartisanship right now, saying he thought it might come at some point despite the Democratic push, which circumvents the 60-vote super majority rule in the Senate due to reconciliation rules.
Biden said in one of his first public addresses as president last month he would seek bipartisanship in the major legislation.
“I look forward to working with members of Congress of both parties to move quickly to get this American Rescue Plan to the American people,” Biden told the American public. And then we can move with equal urgency and bipartisanship to the second step of our economic plan, the Build Back Better — the recovery plan.”
Democrats signaled they may try to revisit controversial details in committee drafting processes before unfurling the reconciliation bill for up-or-down votes in the House and Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Friday after the White House sit-down that the final package — being written now by House and Senate committees — may include a $15 per hour minimum wage, though the Senate dropped the issue, which Republicans and some Democrats say could weaken small businesses and result in those firms firing workers.
Republicans largely object to the Democratic relief plan, saying relief should be more targeted and that the focus should be on ending the pandemic with vaccines and returning people to work.
A group of 10 Republican senators met with Biden on Monday to propose a smaller relief package, but no consensus was reached and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill moved forward with the reconciliation process with Biden’s support.
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